No magic bullet

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh - Marvin Hamilton
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh - Marvin Hamilton

THE COMMITMENT made by the Unites States’s Biden-Harris administration to allocate six million covid19 vaccines to this part of the world should not be taken as a cue for complacency among the population.

For months, it has been clear the US has been focused on protecting its own citizens first and foremost. Now, it would seem, it intends to finally turn its attention to helping the rest of the world.

But it's not time to fete just yet.

In the first place, the US donation, whenever it comes, is earmarked to total six million doses for "Latin America and the Caribbean." This suggests small Caribbean islands like ours will jostle against the needs of the larger Latin American bloc, with its hundreds of millions of inhabitants.

While Caricom may be given an allocation as a whole, it is not clear how that might be carved up among member states. It is also unclear whether this country could be covered by a separate allocation of six million doses which the US has reserved for nations in crisis or under surges.

It is also to be noted that the US intends the bulk of its donations to flow through Covax, which has in the past not been able to meet expectations in a timely manner, reportedly due to problems of supply. We have seen how problems with distribution, involving expiry dates, can wrong-foot the best of public health plans.

Whatever the numbers received, there are also questions over our capacity to administer vaccines fast enough. The Government has boasted of vaccinating 1,000-2,000 people per day. It envisions some facilities being able to handle 5,000 soon.

Whether this is fast enough depends on exactly how many people the State intends to vaccinate overall in order to achieve herd immunity.

As of Thursday, 106,587 people had been vaccinated with a first dose. Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh last month suggested herd immunity required about 700,000 inoculations, and estimated this could be done in six to seven months.

This assumes a 60-70 per cent benchmark is adequate in the first place. Since last year, scientists have begun to push that threshold upwards. Some put the goalpost at 90 per cent. That would look like 1.2 million.

Then there is the troubling issue of possible mutations of the virus, especially if global surges continue.

Mr Biden was at pains to emphasise he has attached no conditions to his country’s generosity, in what can be interpreted as a jab at China, which has at times lumped aid with conditional and secretive loans.

But Uncle Sam’s kindness is equally an act of self-preservation. Mr Biden clearly understands that allowing the virus to run amok among his closest neighbours will spell disaster for his country and the world.


"No magic bullet"

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